The blacksmith & bookbinder's apprentice; despite a nervous breakdown became one of the most influential scientists in history!!
Posted August 24th, 2014
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Michael FaradayFRS (22 September 1791 – 25 August 1867) was an English scientist who contributed to the fields of electromagnetism and electrochemistry. His main discoveries include those of electromagnetic inductiondiamagnetism and electrolysis.


Faraday was born in Newington Butts, which is now part of the London Borough of Southwark, but which was then a suburban part of Surrey. His family was not well off. James Faraday moved his wife and two children to London during the winter of 1790 from Outhgill in Westmorland, where he had been an apprentice to the village blacksmith. The young Michael Faraday, who was the third of four children, having only the most basic school education, had to educate himself. 


At fourteen he became the apprentice to George Riebau, a local bookbinder and bookseller in Blandford Street. During his seven-year apprenticeship he read many books, including Isaac WattsThe Improvement of the Mind, and he enthusiastically implemented the principles and suggestions contained therein. At this time he also developed an interest in science, especially in electricity. Faraday was particularly inspired by the book Conversations on Chemistry by Jane Marcet.


In 1812, at the age of twenty, and at the end of his apprenticeship, Faraday attended lectures by the eminent English chemist Humphry Davy of the Royal Institution and Royal Society, and John Tatum. When Davy damaged his eyesight in an accident with nitrogen trichloride, he decided to employ Faraday as a secretary. When one of the Royal Institution's assistants, John Payne, was sacked, Sir Humphry Davy was asked to find a replacement, and appointed Faraday as Chemical Assistant at the Royal Institution on 1 March 1813.


In the class-based English society of the time, Faraday was not considered a gentleman. When Davy set out on a long tour of the continent in 1813–15, his valet did not wish to go. Instead, Faraday went as Davy's scientific assistant, and was asked to act as Davy's valet until a replacement could be found in Paris. Faraday was forced to fill the role of valet as well as assistant throughout the trip. 


Davy's wife, Jane Apreece, refused to treat Faraday as an equal (making him travel outside the coach, eat with the servants, etc.), and made Faraday so miserable that he contemplated returning to England alone and giving up science altogether. In June 1832, the University of Oxford granted Faraday a Doctor of Civil Law degree (honorary). During his lifetime, he was offered a knighthood in recognition for his services to science. Faraday suffered a nervous breakdown in 1839 but eventually returned to his electromagnetic investigations.


Although Faraday received little formal education, he was one of the most influential scientists in history. It was by his research on the magnetic field around a conductor carrying a direct current that Faraday established the basis for the concept of the electromagnetic field in physics. Faraday also established that magnetism could affect rays of light and that there was an underlying relationship between the two phenomena. He similarly discovered the principle of electromagnetic inductiondiamagnetism, and the laws of electrolysis. His inventions of electromagnetic rotary devices formed the foundation of electric motor technology, and it was largely due to his efforts that electricity became practical for use in technology.


As a chemist, Faraday discovered benzene, investigated the clathrate hydrate of chlorine, invented an early form of the Bunsen burner and the system of oxidation numbers, and popularised terminology such as anodecathodeelectrode, and ion. Faraday ultimately became the first and foremost Fullerian Professor of Chemistry at the Royal Institution of Great Britain, a lifetime position.


Faraday was an excellent experimentalist who conveyed his ideas in clear and simple language; his mathematical abilities, however, did not extend as far as trigonometry or any but the simplest algebra. James Clerk Maxwell took the work of Faraday and others, and summarized it in a set of equations that is accepted as the basis of all modern theories of electromagnetic phenomena. On Faraday's uses of the lines of force, Maxwell wrote that they show Faraday "to have been in reality a mathematician of a very high order – one from whom the mathematicians of the future may derive valuable and fertile methods." The SI unit of capacitance, the Farad, is named in his honour.


Albert Einstein kept a picture of Faraday on his study wall, alongside pictures of Isaac Newton and James Clerk Maxwell. Physicist Ernest Rutherford stated; "When we consider the magnitude and extent of his discoveries and their influence on the progress of science and of industry, there is no honour too great to pay to the memory of Faraday, one of the greatest scientific discoverers of all time".

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